New Delhi: Even as Israel is staring down genocide charges at the International Court for Justice for the manner in which it has waged war against the Palestinian population in Gaza for the past four months, a Hyderabad-based joint venture in which the Adani Group has a controlling stake has manufactured and dispatched over 20 military drones to the Israeli military. Hermes drones – similar to what Adani-Elbit Advanced Systems India Ltd has just delivered – are being extensively used in the Israeli Defence Forces’ military campaign in Gaza, which have resulted in the death of over 28,000 people, including more than 10,000 children.
The sale more of than 20 Hermes 900 medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAVs to Israel – first reported on February 2 by Neelam Mathews for the well-regarded defence-related website Shephard Media – has not yet been publicly acknowledged by either Tel Aviv or New Delhi but sources at Adani, communicating off the record as they are not authorised to speak to the media, confirmed to The Wire last week that the export had indeed taken place.
The role of an Indian conglomerate in supplying drones – which are being used by the IDF for attacks in densely populated urban areas in Gaza – appears to fly in the face of the Modi government’s official position seeking an immediate cease-fire.
News of the sale comes even as judges on the Hague Court of Appeals in the Netherlands on Monday ordered the Dutch government to put a stop to the export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel, the Associated Press reports, “citing a clear risk of violations of international law.”
In 2018, Israel’s Elbit Systems entered into a joint venture with Adani Defence and Aerospace with a 49% share and opened a $15-million facility in Hyderabad to manufacture UAVs for the first time outside of Israel.
When The Wire contacted the Israeli defence firm, a spokesperson simply responded that they could “confirm that Elbit Systems collaborates with Adani, which is a supplier to our UAS [Unmanned Aerial Systems] supply chain”.
The spokesperson added that Elbit Systems “cannot comment on the details of specific contracts, including identifying suppliers and the content they provide to different customers”.
According to Shephard Media, the UAVs were delivered with fully assembled carbon composite aerostructures produced at the 50,000 sq. ft Adani facility in Hyderabad. The report also indicated that Elbit provided Hermes 900 kits to India, along with necessary tools like sensors and engines, for the assembly process.
In November 2023, the Hindu reported – based on insights from an anonymous source regarding the delivery timeline of Hermes 900 UAVs for the Indian defence services amidst the Israel-Hamas conflict – that the aerostructure of Hermes 900 had already been manufactured in Hyderabad. “Some equipment has to come in from Israel, which has already arrived. So there is no impact in that regard,” the source was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
As reported by Haaretz in February 2023, the vice president of UAV systems in the Aerospace Division at Elbit Systems, Vered Haimovich, said the Hermes 900 has been Elbit System’s flagship drone, which has been operationally used by the Israeli Air Force since 2015. It has also taken part “in all rounds of conflict in recent years”,
Drones, particularly the Hermes 900, play a pivotal role for Israel in the ongoing military operations in Gaza, initiated after the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023 that left over 1,200 dead, the vast majority of whom were civilians and non-combatants. With its extended endurance exceeding 30 hours, the Hermes 900 provides crucial surveillance capabilities for Israeli forces.
In December, a correspondent from the Telegraph visited Israel’s Palmachim air base and observed how Israeli soldiers were remotely operating Hermes 900 drones for not just surveillance, but also to deliver small laser-guided bombs in Gaza.
While the military wing of Hamas last month claimed to have shot down a Hermes 900 drone recently, the incident remains unverified by independent sources.
In the past few weeks criticism, even from Israel’s allies, has mounted regarding the civilian casualties in the four months since the Hamas attack. According to United Nations agencies, the death toll which exceeds 28,000, predominantly comprises women and children. Last Thursday, US President Joe Biden sharpened his criticism of Israel, calling its Gaza response ‘over the top’.
After initially expressing unconditional solidarity with Israel following the October 7 attack, India has nuanced its stance over the past few months. New Delhi had even abstained on a resolution in the UN General Assembly calling for a humanitarian pause in October 2023. However, two months later, it voted in favour of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
India’s position, as recently articulated by external affairs minister S. Jaishankar at the NAM summit in Uganda, is that there has to be a “sustainable solution that gives immediate relief to those most affected”, while reiterating that terrorism was unacceptable. He also reaffirmed India’s support for two-state solution and noted that the conflict should “not spread within or beyond the region”.